Normality is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk on but no flowers grow on it.
-Vincent Van Gogh
A few weeks ago I was slumped in an uncomfortable plastic chair, feeling sorry for myself, and damning the airline that had just delayed my flight. I watched peoples reactions for a bit which is always fun. The “do you know who I am? You will get that plane here right now!" outrage of the first class passengers. The resigned "I'm never getting there now" of the stand-by fliers, and the grumpy "oh my God...damn it all” exasperated, eye rolling frustration of the economy fliers like me.
I got bored waiting for updates of when my flight "might" leave so I decided to stretch my legs. As I was walking around, a vision on one of the airport television screens caught my attention. The TV was tuned to CNN (which it will usually be in the Northeast) and on the screen were two faces I knew well. One chiseled, patrician, glacial. The other delicate, spiritually bruised, handsome but also pretty. Indeed, Anderson Cooper was interviewing Marshall Mathers, the artist otherwise known as Eminem. I was so confused by the juxtaposition of those two men (as I am when I see photos of Martha Stewart partying in the south of France with Snoop Dog) that I went closer to hear what was going on. I only caught one small exchange but it was enough to make me appreciate Eminem even more than I already do.
The two men were sitting down facing each other in what I assume is Eminem’s recording studio. Anderson was in some sort of Vanderbiltesque respect-me preppy ensemble and Eminem in his ubiquitous cotton tee shirt. Anderson, looking CNNish and serious, motioned to a stack of papers that Eminem was holding on his lap in a box. There were seemingly hundreds of sheets and scraps of paper piled up on top of each other in a most haphazard manner. Scrawls and sketches and slashes of pen covering every page. The writing was illegible, frantic, urgent, wild. These are Eminem's ideas, he keeps all these papers and scraps of ideas for future songs and lyrics in boxes. Just reams of notes all chaotically shoved together with no rhyme or reason. Eminem writes these observations and musings on whatever scrap of paper is on hand at the time. He then puts all these papers together and boxes them for future use, like a ritual. He calls it “stacking ammo”. Suddenly Anderson, who apparently knows what “crazy person” handwriting looks like, pointed at the papers and said to Marshall “but this looks like the work of a crazy person!" Eminem remained silent for a beat but in his eyes you could see every word he was probably thinking…”what were you expecting Anderson? A Boy Scout?” Finally he said, his voice softly patronizing, while looking down at the clear-cut evidence of the madness sitting in his lap…“Yeah? Well that's probably because I AM crazy”.
At that I smiled. “Good for you Marshall!” I crowed internally. “You own that crazy!” And indeed there is some madness there. There has to be. And Marshall knows it. His confession to Anderson reminded me of when Elon Musk revealed to the world, on Saturday Night Live of all places, that he was autistic. "Well what did you expect?” he asked the rapt audience “A normal person? I'm sending people to Mars for God's sake!" I imagine Eminem, whose music I love, feels the same way. Like Elon, he has traded normalcy for genius.
What is normal anyway? According to Merriam Webster it means “conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected”. There is nothing normal about Eminem. Or Anderson Cooper for that matter. And quite honestly the longer I spend on planet Earth the more convinced I am that there is no normal. At least not in the human race anyway. Even the most normal of normies, and I have met several of these, have their own odd quirks, their own strange mental tics, their singular and individual personal oddities.
And how boring would it be if everyone were normal? If we all came in the standard shape and size and all behaved and created in ways that were usual, typical, or expected. How dull would life be if it were normal? Without the “not normals” like Eminem, effectively harnessing his crazy and spitting out his fiery, angry, self-soothing rants for our enjoyment.
Recently several articles have been published about the fact that being “normal” or having a normal brain may not be that enviable after all. One article from Psychology Today even had the amazing headline “Is Being Normal a Disadvantage in Life?” It turns out it just may be. Maya Angelou summed it up thus: “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
I don’t think I ever have been normal - although I do my best to pass as normal-adjacent in my everyday affairs. It’s so freeing to no longer care what people think about me. To no longer hide the fact that I am certainly not “normal.” That I have struggled mightily against anxiety and obsessions and compulsions and addictions of both the mind and body. How wonderful it feels to no longer want to be normal. How miraculous to finally understand what Vincent Van Gogh was talking about all those years ago. I’m on a different path than most. A bumpier journey perhaps - for the road is certainly not paved. But there is beauty on this journey, and there are blessings, and there are flowers. And if I had to choose one path to travel all over again I am pretty sure it would be this very same one.